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Sunday, 25 September 2016

Bakery Hill Peated Cask Strength Whisky Review!

This stuff would probably be my favourite official bottling (i.e. not a Heartwood) of Australian whisky. Cask strength, single cask, peated, non-chill filtered and natural colour, and good value for money. Great stuff.

Situated in Bayswater, Victoria on the outskirts of Melbourne, Bakery Hill Distillery has been operating since the late 90's, and first released their whisky in 2004. Proprietor David Baker, a food scientist by trade, has taken a fastidious, technical and traditional approach to production, using a UK-designed and built copper pot still and spirit safe, and bottling at natural colour and without chill filtration. The distillery is a bit of an underdog these days, with Starward / New World taking the spotlight in Melbourne, and Tasmania dominating the Australian whisky scene, so Bakery Hill is relatively quiet in comparison and largely flies under the radar. But it shouldn't, the whisky is good and is deserving of its place on the shelves.

Bakery Hill currently produce five expressions, being 'Classic Malt', 'Double Wood', and 'Peated Malt', which are all bottled at 46%, plus cask strength versions of the Classic and Peated. They use Australian malted barley for all un-peated expressions, but unfortunately the environmental laws in the state of Victoria prohibit the burning of peat, or rather the release of peat smoke into the atmosphere. David also had trouble sourcing peated Australian malt in the relatively small quantities required, so the peated malt is imported from commercial maltsters in New Zealand.

All expressions are matured in re-sized ex-Jack Daniels American oak casks, with the Double Wood receiving an extra finishing in French oak. The fresh casks are sent to a local cooperage for re-sizing down to 100-litres, which David believes to be the ideal size for maturing whisky as efficiently as possible in Melbourne's unpredictable climate, widely known for it's dramatic mood swings. While none of the expressions carry an age statement, thanks to that indecisive climate the whisky matures considerably faster than it would in Scotland, so in this case an age statement would largely be irrelevant anyway.

I'm yet to try any of the other Bakery Hill expressions, but I've tasted this Peated Cask Strength a few times, and it's truly world-class in my opinion. There is some variation between releases of course, being single cask releases, but all are around 60% ABV, and as stated above are matured in those re-sized Jack Daniels casks. It's also relatively well-priced, selling for around $160-170 domestically, for a 500ml bottle. That may sound expensive compared to your favourite Scotch, but compared to the prices commanded by other Australian whiskies at similar strengths it's very reasonable.

Bakery Hill Peated Cask Strength, NAS, 59.9%. Melbourne, Australia.
Matured in re-sized 100-litre Jack Daniels cask. Non-chill filtered, natural colour.

Colour: Yellow gold.

Nose: Fresh & zesty, lots of barley character and sweet tropical fruit. Almost Bruichladdich-esque, which is a pretty big compliment I'd say! The peat is very light, lurking in the background, just a slight hint adding depth. Creamy vanilla frosting on a lightly burnt sponge cake. Some peppery oak and cola syrup.

Texture: Medium weight, nice oily, creamy feel. No heat either.

Taste: There's the peat. Thick & chunky charred peat, some slightly bitter oak, more creamy vanilla. A lot of bourbon influence here, sweet caramel, peppery toasted oak.

Finish: Surprisingly short, but it does fade in and out for a little while. Burnt caramel and pepper, wood embers. Dries out leaving some oaky bourbon and malted barley.

Score: 3 out of 5.

Notes: Really enjoyed the nose on this one, found it surprisingly complex and very enjoyable. Nice on the palate as well, but fell off a little on the finish. I'm not a big fan of bitterness or even of bourbon really so that's probably down to personal taste. But then, isn't everything!

This bottling wasn't as peaty as I remember from my previous encounters with this whisky, but that could be my memory as well as batch variation, so it's hard to say if there have been changes, or if it's just the natural variance between each cask. The beauty of single cask releases there, no two are ever identical!

All that aside, this is still one very impressive Aussie underdog of a whisky. Highly deserving of a bigger following in my opinion, and of a higher place on the world whisky stage. If you haven't yet sampled Bakery Hill's wares, go for it!


Big thanks to Craig from The Whisky Company (formerly Nippy Sweetie Whiskies) for the sample!

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Glenfarclas 30 Year Old Whisky Review!

A seriously old and now very expensive sherried whisky which recently had a massive price increase in Australia. It's way outside of my price range these days, but I was lucky enough to receive a sample from a generous mate who picked up a bottle for an absolute steal (and prior to the increase).

Actually, I should clarify that even after the recent price increase, this is still not unreasonably priced for a 30-year old single malt when compared to similarly-aged official bottlings from the competition. Both of the Glenfarclas whiskies I've previously reviewed, the '105' and the Whisky & Wisdom single cask bottling, were quite young and were bottled at cask strength. So this one is basically the polar opposite, at 30 years of age and 43% ABV.

Glenfarclas is now somewhat of an enigma for me. I really enjoyed the previously mentioned Whisky & Wisdom bottling, in fact it really redeemed the distillery for me, but that was an exclusive single cask personally selected by Whisky & Wisdom, so it can't really be used as a reference point for the distillery's normal offerings, and we'll leave it out of today's proceedings. And thus far, the other official bottlings that I've tried have disappointed me. I like the distillery on paper, I like that they're still family owned, that all of their stills are direct-fired, that they mature in traditional dunnage warehouses, and that they don't add any colouring. But the whiskies I've tried so far just haven't lived up to my personal expectations, particularly when compared to competing sherried whiskies from other distilleries. So far, anyway!

We know Glenfarclas mature their regular official bottlings in sherry casks, either ex-Oloroso or ex-Fino sherry, and either in 500-litre sherry butts or 250-litre hogsheads. But the 'core' bottlings very rarely tell you which type of cask was used, or whether they were first-fill or refill casks. But being a 30-year old whisky it's highly unlikely that any first-fill casks were involved, as they would likely have overwhelmed the spirit completely over those three decades of maturation. As mentioned above Glenfarclas don't add any artificial colouring to their whiskies, but unfortunately I can't find any mention of chill filtration, so we'll have to assume it has been chill filtered given the bottling strength. Regardless, this is one of the oldest whiskies I've had the privilege of tasting, which is pretty special. So let's get to it!
Glenfarclas 30-year old, 43%. Speyside, Scotland.
Matured in sherry casks, either ex-Oloroso or ex-Fino sherry. Chill filtered, natural colour. 

Colour: Bronze

Nose: Soft and quite complex. Strong furniture polish, nutty oak, stewed stone fruit & musty berries. Sweetened strawberry sauce, some resin. Some beef stock and fresh mushrooms. All good so far!

Texture: Light & quite clean. Definitely chill filtered, in my opinion, and it suffers for it.  

Taste: Hmm. More beef stock & mushroom, light caramel. Slightly bitter oak & tannins. Some raw spirit with a little prune juice, and something resembling struck matches. Thinking this is probably sulphur, I'm not normally sensitive to it at all but I'm finding it quite prominent here. 

Finish: Short-medium length. Big handful of pepper, and something vegetal. Root vegetables that have started to go bad. More struck matches, and some spirit-y heat, which is surprising for the age and strength. 

Score: 2.5 out of 5.

Notes: A bit of a disappointment really. I really enjoyed the nose, it had great promise, but it was let down by the palate and finish. There were some notes in there which I found very off-putting, which didn't appear on the nose but were quite strong on the palate. Naturally there will be batch variation with these older bottlings, and I don't have a batch code for this sample, but there's no way this one is worth the current asking prices. Which by the way are a massive $750 AUD at the time of writing. Ouch,  

Luckily the mate who generously provided this sample didn't have to pay anywhere near that, or I suspect he would've been seriously disappointed. But to be honest even at the discounted price I'm not sure it's worth it. For something so old and so expensive it just hasn't lived up to its end of the deal, and it's another mark in the negatives for Glenfarclas from me. But like I said, there will be batch variation, and I have seen some favourable reviews of this one, so there's still hope. 


Sunday, 11 September 2016

Heartwood Beagle 3 Whisky Review!

Another one that almost got away! An older release from the king of Tasmanian whisky, and I was lucky enough to finally get my hands on a bottle long after it had sold out.

I first tasted this glorious liquid over a year ago, sitting in Mr. Heartwood's Hobart office on a cold & windy Tuesday morning. Beagle 3 was one of the stand-outs of the incredible line-up, but my wife had her heart set on another expression (Convict Resurrection - reviewed here, along with more information about Heartwood), and I just couldn't leave without a bottle of The Revelation. I should've tried harder back then to stretch the budget and grab a Beagle 3 as well, but I talked myself out of it. That was a mistake, because it had made a dinosaur-sized impression on me, and left a dinosaur-shaped hole in my heart!

Back to the present, and my wife managed to find a bottle of Beagle 3 at an online whisky store late last year, for a reasonable price, and bought it for me as a birthday present. I was very tempted to open it immediately and devour the contents (responsibly, of course!), but held off instead under the notion of it being irreplaceable. That was true at the time, and it's now true again, but in the meantime Mr. Heartwood made the (probably very difficult) decision to part with a few 'archived' bottles that he didn't have the space for. And luckily, after another stupid moment of hesitation from myself (are you beginning to sense a theme here?), I was able to procure a second bottle of Beagle 3. And this one did not stay sealed for long!

Beagle 3 was the third expression in Heartwood's Beagle series of vatted / blended malt whiskies (a blend of different single malts, no grain whisky), named after the HMS Beagle which carried naturalist and revolutionary-evolutionary Charles Darwin. The first Beagle release arrived in August 2013, with the second following a year later, and both were blended from seven different casks of Tasmanian Single Malt. Beagle 3 came along in May 2015, and was blended from nine different casks: 4 from Tasmania Distillery (Sullivan's Cove) and 5 from Lark distillery, including ex-bourbon, ex-port, ex-sherry, and ex-pinot noir casks, and peated whisky (from Lark) made up 18% of the recipe.

As is always the case with Heartwood (but unusually for a blended / vatted malt) it was bottled at cask strength, a brontosaurus-like 68.4% in this case. And as always there's no added colouring or nasty chill filtration to be found. 220 bottles were released, and that was over 15 months ago, so it's basically impossible to find these days. To force himself to be different each time, Mr. Duckett actually destroys the recipes for the Beagles after they've been bottled. So there really won't be another like this again. And this probably goes without saying, but (spoiler alert) if you're lucky enough to come across a bottle and you're a Heartwood fan, I suggest you grab it immediately!

Heartwood Beagle 3, NAS, 68.4%. Tasmania, Australia. 
Blended / Vatted Malt from 9 different casks, 4 from Tasmania Distillery (Sullivan's Cove) and 5 from Lark Distillery. Non-chill filtered, natural colour. 220 bottles released May 2015.

Colour: Deep, dark polished copper.

Nose: Rich & intense. Thick fruit syrup. Boozy raisins, buttery heavily-toasted oak, mint, orange-scented furniture polish, slightly dusty cream-caramel chews and wood spices. Golden syrup over baked stone fruit. I could nose this beauty for days! 

Texture: Um, it's a Heartwood! Massive & intense, mountains of flavour. There's a little initial heat of course, but it's not a rough burning heat, and it passes quickly. 

Taste: Massive again. Spicy & charred oak with extra spice. More rich fruit syrup and raisins, some burnt caramel and warm orange oil. Spiced milk chocolate, and some leather. 

Finish: Medium length. Lightly torched juicy raisins. Some dried chilli flakes, a little mint and buttered almost-burnt fried bread. Becomes soft quite quickly, and the stone fruit comes back, but it's dried now.

Score: 4.5 out of 5. 

Notes: Just awesome. Massive amounts of flavour. Big, powerful and boisterous. But also very complex and dynamic, it's constantly changing, and it's just delicious! It takes me straight back to Tim's office on that cold Tuesday morning in Hobart. And it didn't seem as cold afterwards, funny that...

I'd say this is probably my favourite Heartwood from those I've tried so far, which also makes it my favourite Australian whisky so far. These certainly aren't beginner's whiskies, but with a little time, small sips and experience, they pay off in spades. And I was very lucky to be able to grab that second bottle. After all, only 220 bottles were ever released, and it was released 18 months ago, so this is one rare whisky!  

There is a Beagle 4 release in the works, but it's sounding like it won't be ready for quite some time, and it won't be bottled until it's ready. Naturally it'll be quite different to all that have come before it, and no doubt it'll be well worth the wait. Viva la Heartwood, viva!    


Sunday, 4 September 2016

Longrow Red Pinot Noir Cask Whisky Review!

I've had the pleasure of tasting two of the four expressions in Longrow's 'Red' series, and they've been excellent. Thanks to a sample swap, this will be my third. But will it follow suit?

Longrow is the double-distilled, heavily peated spirit produced at Springbank distillery. Their 'Red' series is/was a line of whiskies which were either finished or fully matured in red wine casks. All are around 11 years old, bottled at cask strength, non-chill filtered and naturally coloured. The two I've tasted were finished in Australian Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon casks respectively, while the third expression was fully matured in a Port cask, which I'm yet to try but apparently is excellent. 

This fourth and apparently final release in the series has been matured for 11 years in ex-bourbon casks, and finished for another year in first-fill ex-Pinot Noir casks, sourced from New Zealand. Which means this one a is a year older than the previous releases, and also means it has spent the least amount of time in wine casks. It was bottled at a cask strength of 52.9%, and like all Springbank whiskies is non-chill filtered and naturally coloured.

On a slightly sour note, I wish Springbank would put a little more effort into some of their packaging. I know they're an independent distillery and they probably aren't overly concerned with such things, but less expensive Springbank expressions have fully enclosed boxes, so why shouldn't these? You may think I'm just being shallow, and that it doesn't matter, but I'm not talking about aesthetics here. When you have a box with a big hole in the front (which is also pretty flimsy as a result), and the bottle inside is exposed and is made from clear glass, there's absolutely no protection from sunlight, which can adversely affect the whisky itself over time, as well as the label. And quite a few bottlings from Springbank use this same box design / style. Yes whisky should be stored out of direct sunlight anyway, but this isn't always possible, so I'd rather a fully-enclosed box. Anyway, end rant. 

Personally, I've had a couple of red wine-finished whiskies which I've really enjoyed and a few which I haven't; at least not to the same extent. I'm not a big red wine fan in general, which probably has something to do with it. But seeing as this one has had a relatively short finish in the pinot casks, and is heavily peated, and based on my experiences with the previous Longrow Reds, I'm not too worried. Let's give it a shot...
Longrow 'Red' Pinot Noir Cask Finish, 12 years old, 52.9%. Campbeltown, Scotland.
Matured for 11 years in ex-bourbon casks, finished for 1 year in first-fill ex-pinot noir casks, sourced from New Zealand. Non-chill filtered, natural colour, cask strength. 9000 bottles, released 2015.

Colour: Amber.

Nose: Surprisingly malty, plus red fruits and spice, as you'd expect. Strawberry and red apple, some malty golden syrup, hint of that trademark Longrow peat, earthy & dirty. Sweet and musty red grapes, a little acetone. 

Texture: Medium-weight, bold and warming. Not harsh or rough though. 

Taste: More red apple and red berry sauce, spicy oak, buttery pastry, like Danish pastries. Still surprisingly malty, plus a big pinch of pepper and a little of that acetone. Not getting any peat here really, maybe a little burnt matches. 

Finish: Falls over a little here, unfortunately. Decent medium-length, but quite soft. The pepper and acetone sticks around for a little while, along with more of the red apple, and strawberries, but served in custard this time. The earthy peat does return down the track, and hangs on 'til the end. 

Score: 3 out of 5.

Notes: Not unpleasant, but not really doing it for me. Not on the level of the Cab Sauv release in my opinion, and I'd assume not as good as the Port cask either, judging by other reviews, so a little disappointing. Nonetheless, it's definitely something different, something a little unusual and quite interesting, as you'd expect from Springbank, those wonderful folks in Campbeltown aren't at all afraid of being different. More power to them!  

To date, my favourite Longrow is definitely the Rundlets & Kilderkins, which was matured in the namesake smaller casks and was seriously good. Plenty of that earthy, dirty peat in that one, which was toned down considerably in this Pinot Noir finished expression. What I would've loved to see in the 'Red' series is a fully Oloroso sherry-matured Longrow, or perhaps even a PX finish. But hey, every release in the series sold out in short order, so who am I to make that call.